My review of Seth Godin’s new book, Stop Stealing Dreams


My review of Seth Godin’s new book, Stop Stealing Dreams

Seth Godin just published an e-book about education called Stop Stealing Dreams. He talks about how schools stink, but that even though homeschooling appears to be a rational response to terrible schools, homeschooling is inefficient and unrealistic for most parents.

When I first saw this, I was stunned. Seth has built a career on telling people how to push past the status quo. In his book The Dip, which is my favorite, Seth taught us all how to do something really difficult.  In his book Linchpin, Seth asked us if we are doing something that really matters or just talking about it.

I can’t help thinking that Stop Stealing Dreams is his description of why homeschooling requires going through a dip, but he doesn’t want to do it. So instead of being a linchpin for homeschooing, Seth will be a naysayer. Seth is advocating the status quo: Lame-duck parent activists who delude themselves that their activism is meaningful. And people advocating for large-scale school reform without any blueprint whatsoever for how to educate such a wide range of students on such a large scale. This discussion is parental escapism. No parent, not even Seth, will solve the school problem before their kids are out of school. 

Seth has kids. This book is his justification for not homeschooling his own kids.

On the one hand, I like this because I know that if Seth feels like he has to justify it, then it’s true that homeschooling is going mainstream.

But I’m disturbed because I adore Seth, and his book, The Dip, really changed how I think about my life.

This moment in Seth’s career reminds me of when David Sedaris stopped being funny. Do you know who David Sedaris is? He’s an essay writer who is absolutely hilarious. His earlier writing, such as Naked, is about being an outsider: He was a not-famous writer, from a wacky family, and gay. It’s great material.

But then Sedaris got famous, his funny gay essays went mainstream, and he became one of the richest essayists in history, living in the South of France with his partner, and everything is great and there’s not a lot to write about.

Melissa sent me a link to this ad for Mercedes. The ad blows me away because it’s full of creativity. There is the amazing idea for a non-emission car. Then there’s the idea of how to convey that car visually, in an ad. And then there is the video editor who created a really fun story. Watching the ad is fun because you feel that you are part of a huge creative blast of energy.

That’s how I felt when I read Seth’s earlier books. That’s how I felt when I read Sedaris’s early writing.

It’s very hard to be creative when you don’t need to be. Creativity requires a different kind of drive.

It’s this drive: Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who is in and out of mental institutions all the time, but she can’t stop creating art. Her art almost always has dots on it. She does the art because she can’t stop.

Seth has done one really big thing for the homeschooling movement: he has focused our attention on the real barrier, which is the ego.

So many parents say they’d homeschool if they had more resources. Seth shows us that resources are not the barrier. Seth’s book is the rationale that parents with unlimited income use for not homeschooling.

It’s clear to me that the real reason Seth is not homeschooling is because he thinks he’d be bored doing it. He has bigger fish to fry. He thinks it’s inefficient to spend his days educating his kids when he has such big ideas, and such a big audience waiting to hear them.

I get it. I have that problem, too. It’s just that I’m not willing to cave to it. I’m going the scary route: I’m taking the dip. I know that schools suck. I know that kids are best educated in a way that is customized to the student. And I know that my career is going to suffer because I’m giving my kids this education.

Do you know how David Sedaris started writing well again? He started writing about life as a rich person. Here’s a recent example in the New Yorker. It’s good writing. I felt good reading it. And I felt happy that Sedaris was able to shift himself to accommodate the issues he faced.

I am hoping Seth will be like David Sedaris and Seth will find something better to do than tell people why they should push for maintaining the status quo. I don’t know what Seth’s next dip is, but I think it’s time for him to take one. I think the book about homeschooling is Seth’s admitting that he’s scared to do something new. He has too much to lose.

But you don’t need to be as rich and successful as Seth to feel that way. Each of us feels that way when we are going to do something difficult.

And, in the meantime, Seth makes the best argument for homeschooling yet: Smart people only argue against an idea when it’s clear that idea’s time has come.

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  1. Denise
    Denise says:

    Penelope, I just plain disagree. In Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth talks about how current design of schools is obsolete and how we must redesign schools. Not reform them. He also says he doesn’t think the answer is to dismantle the system and leave education of America’s youth to millions of amateurs. I know you live in the Midwest where you don’t have school options, but when a school is good, is designed well, it’s a very exciting place for kids. Not only possible – but many models in the country even today. His call to action is to redesign schools into exciting, meaningful and useful places. Schools that build on passion and creativity rather than conformity. I’m totally on board with that! He is not selling out, here, he’s just not dropping out.

    • S. Miller
      S. Miller says:

      I haven’t read the book, but I agree with Denise. I know everyone probably wants the best education possible for their children, but most children are not going to get that from their parents. Some parents may be smart but impatient. Some parents are not smart and do not know it. Some parents will focus on teaching their kids the things that they are really good at without exposing them to other things.

      Giving up, instead of revitalizing social institutions, is going to further burden already overburdened nuclear families that are already expected to be chefs, cleaning people, nurses, and educators to some extent while working full time jobs to support the family.

      • Princess Mom
        Princess Mom says:

        Denise, your argument is predicated on the idea that professional teachers are never inpatient (they are), are never dumber than they think (they are), and never focus on their subject of passion to the exclusion of other things (usually this happens in college). As a professional teacher who homeschooled my kids, I can tell you that most classroom teachers are not Mensans and, especially in the critical elementary years, are not even subject specialists. They’re usually people of average intelligence who are good at crowd-control.

        Elementary school teacher-training does not cover special ed or gifted ed or much specialized teaching knowledge at all, unless you count “how to set up a classroom with good flow,” “how to manage paperwork,” and “how to make an attractive bulletin board” as specialized knowledge. (Yes, we really had direct instruction on designing bulletin boards, but not on meeting the needs of non-traditional learners.) Your average classroom teacher has taken two years (or less) of a liberal arts BA to learn how to teach your child. If you have a BA (or better), you can totally do this.

        Anyone who has taught their children letters and counting can teach reading and arithmetic. There are lots of curricula out there to help you. Just follow along, it’s what your child’s teacher is doing. If you get stuck on long division, for example, there are numerous support groups–online and IRL–to help you. (Most of the homeschoolers I know are former classroom teachers.) There are homeschool learning co-ops, where parents teach classes in their area of interest, while their kids learn with another parent teaching something else. And colleges are very good at telling you what information your child needs to study before applying. Or send your kids to high school when they’re ready, or to community college. (Many homeschoolers have an AA before entering a regular college as freshmen.)

        A BA in Education prepares you to teach about as well as a BA in business teaches you how to be a CEO. Most of the learning is on-the-job, with a support system, and following along in a curriculum written by someone else. In other words, exactly like homeschooling.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      when I began reading the manifesto I had no clue what Harlem Village schools were all about so I googled them. I like their model.

      I am on of the people who wasn’t squashed by the school system. But Penelope’s kids have special needs. We all do but sometimes it’s harder on some than others.

      The thing is, I do believe you can advocate for something new while giving your kids a good education. Even if your school is just decent but you are involved in education for your kids around the school hrs…that’s a lot! Not many kids get that.

      Maybe Seth’s kids have a great time in school and because the parents are rich+educated they get “the holes” filled in.

      It may not be perfect as being homeschooled by loving and super smart mentors but even that is not perfect.

      I am trying to avoid the problematic option of downing on the current institutions (everything, church, school, work, etc) just because they don’t work for me and taking a new path is scary. I am taking the new path and every day I think of why it’s the right thing for me. But sometimes it gets so hard and so scary that I convince myself it’s good by making the current status of things (having a 9-5 job, church, the school system) seem evil and all wrong.

      I don’t think that’s realistic and I think it’s cowardly to do so.

      Like when people break up and to make it easier on themselves they tell people their ex was super crazy.

      I think that if I ever broke up with my husband I’d have to be extra brave and honest and tell people that he’s a wonderful person but that as a husband, for me, he wasn’t and I wasn’t a good wife to him. But we still are good people to other people we are not married to.

      Do I make sense?

      Your option, the path you take, doesn’t get to be more right or the best by how wrong what you are leaving behind is. What you are leaving behind may be wonderful but not for you.

      I haven’t finished the book, Seth’s. But I like everything I am reading so far and it’s encouraged me even more to homeschool my kids.

      We want to be able to teach them history, sociology, etc. by traveling and hands on learning rather than making them nervous to cramm info just for the test. Then forget. But we have to change our whole lives for that. To be able to afford that luxury. So we don’t say it’s hard. We are just going for it because it’s also hard, for me, to watch our lives go on as normal.

    • penelopetrunk
      penelopetrunk says:

      I think the discussion of school reform is outdate. That’s my problem here.

      Education reform, focuses on much more fundamental questions:
      Kids need to be self-learners if they are going to compete in adult life, and school does not teach self-learning.

      Kids do not need to be told what to learn in order to figure out what they like to learn. Kids are naturally curious. School is curriculum based so that kids cannot follow their own paths.

      Unschooled kids — who follow no curriculum — do better on the SAT than the majority of schooled kids. The SAT does not test what you’ve learned. Which means you don’t need to have curriculum based education to get into a good college.

      I could list stuff like this for ten pages. The point I want to drive home is that the education reform movement is so far past school reform that it’s ridiculous to waste our time talking about this topic.

      School was set up to create factory workers. And now, when we have no factory workers, school is set up as a babysitting system.

      My biggest beef with the idea of school reform is that we already do that. We spend bazillions of dollars on that. And it doesn’t work. So I don’t get how anyone thinks it will miraculously work for their kid.


      • karelys
        karelys says:

        yes JUST talking about it is outdated. But doing something about is necessary. Obviously what has been done is not working. But something needs to be done.

        • penelopetrunk
          penelopetrunk says:

          Agree, but if you have a kid in school now, schools are not going to be fixed at any point in your kid’s years at school. And I think you do not need to put your kids in public school in order to support education reform.

          I don’t believe that you should put your kids in a system that doesn’t work. The time the kids spend there is too huge.

          You can support large-scale education in the public sector without sacrificing your kids’ best years of self-guided learning.

          Here’s a post I wrote on this topic:


          • Melanie Wilson
            Melanie Wilson says:

            As a veteran homeschooler, I completely agree. Institutions (and even people) don’t change destructive behaviors unless the people they care about leave. I believe the exodus of students from schools will create more positive change than leaving kids in as a show of support. Then there is the issue that we all have the right to educate our children in the way we think best. That responsibility to educate our children comes before the responsibility we have to make sure other people’s children are well educated.

      • Jon Winebrenner
        Jon Winebrenner says:

        Bullshit! Sorry, but your diatribe about homeschooling as the be-all/end-all is missing one, core, fundamental element of school…social integration. School is far more than books and learning and turning our kids into free thinkers. School is as much about social integration and learning how to deal with others as it is about learning in a traditional sense.

        I also don’t buy that school is as broken as everyone makes it out to be. Public school systems are about providing adequate education for the masses. Not “The Best” (seriously, can you define “The Best”?). The system is created to be as flexible as possible. So flexible, that you’re open to take routes like homeschooling or private education.

        Your kids, as you admit, have special needs that prevent them from integrating socially in a typical school situation. That doesn’t mean that this is what the masses need.

        Does the current education system need to jack itself out of the rut its currently in? Absolutely.An environment that needs to be flexible and change with the times is not conducive to the current trend of Union and government involvement which is stagnating progress.

        Let’s not mix signals here. Homeschooling is throwing the baby out with the bathwater and is simply not an option for the masses.

        You love it, and it works for you. Excellent. Please, treat it like it is. An option, nothing more.

        • J
          J says:

          School is as much about social integration and learning how to deal with others as it is about learning in a traditional sense.

          Clearly a comment from someone who doesn’t spend time with a diverse group of homeschoolers. Assuming homeschooled kids don’t know how to “deal with others” and aren’t socially integrated is ignorant. Some HSers have a hard time integrating socially, just as some kids in public school do. The idea that there is some greater incidence of bad socialization among homeschoolers is wrong, wrong, wrong.

        • poppygirl
          poppygirl says:

          thank you for contributing a reasonable voice in the everything’s broken/homeschooling’s the only choice dialogue. It is NOT a zero-sum game. Why not take the best public schools have to offer and ENRICH your kids at the same time?
          Penelope has chosen to live in an area where her “special needs” kids and the dip combine in a not so good way. Many of us are not in the same situation ( eg, we live in a great school district with lots of services for special needs , or one with tons of enrichment opportunities, etc…), and asking everyone to homeschool is just as STUPID (yes i said it) as asking everyone to rely on their public schools alone.

          So have at it, and if you make the choice (as P did ) to live in a crappy public school district and you opt out of trying to push public education forward. Not mine or my kids reality, and for that i am very very grateful.

        • Vicky
          Vicky says:

          Thanks for this Jon.

          People forget that there was a time when everyone was homeschooled. That’s why public education was started.

      • helen
        helen says:

        homeschooled kids are some of today’s best violin players too. do you think this is because they aren’t taught the violin? no, it’s because they’re ONLY taught the violin.

        your SAT stats show the same

  2. Ruth Zive
    Ruth Zive says:

    I haven’t read the book, so I’ll take your word for it (at least until I read it myself).

    But I will say this – that Mercedes ad was kick ass!

    • penelopetrunk
      penelopetrunk says:

      Oh, I’m so glad to hear you clicked. I put in tons of links because I’m so excited to share new stuff with you guys that I loved. So it always makes me happy to hear when you get happy from a click!


      • Jonno
        Jonno says:

        Oh come on. The Mercedes ad is only remotely refreshing because car ads are generally the most unimaginative, boring, repetitive class of ads there are.
        You only present one, negative side on public schooling. There is no mention of the creativity that is inspired by seeing a much greater variety of viewpoints. There are so many differences between public and home schooling that to simply state that because public schooling is curriculum-based leads to less creativity is pure bunk. I can imagine ten other aspects that might lead to public schooling and all it entails that might lead to more creativity. Does it? I don’t know but at least I can see the possibility. Try to open your own mind a little.

  3. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I would have died if my parents had homeschooled me. My mom was an elementary school teacher and so she tried to teach me how to read early– but I refused to listen to her so I didn’t learn to read until I was 6. Luckily when I was 14 my parents could afford to send me to boarding school in England where the education system is better. Of course it has its problems, the biggest one being that they are compelled to try and copy the failing American way of doing things.

    • Deborah
      Deborah says:

      I live in London now and have my son in the Steiner School System for several reasons. But, one being that I could start him later – like in America. So, I am not sure England is following the American system. They start their children younger here. Typical school here starts full time at age 5 for 5 days a week – full days! Ridiculous! My son will be five in July (a summer baby and left handed), I am not sure he would have much self confidence pushed through so early. He will go 4 half days in the fall.

      • Will
        Will says:


        Over here, we start children at preschool (part time) at between 2 and 3. Typically 15 hours a week at 3. This is optional until infants school at 5 (but children who have been to a good preschool typically do better).

  4. Shandra
    Shandra says:

    It sounds to me like he just said something you don’t want to hear.

    Going on the article you posted a link to, I wholeheartedly agree with point A.

    I have been a “beginning expert” in a lot of areas and I have no desire to be the person who makes all her first-time-teacher mistake on her kids. It’s usually the person who knows a little bit about something who thinks s/he has all the answers.

    I’m just not convinced I would, after investing so much into homeschooling, be able to identify our family’s weaknesses and address them appropriately. With a teacher doing one thing and us supplementing in other ways, I feel like it’s just more likely my kids will end up with what they need.

    It’s fine with me if other people want to homeschool. But I think you’re getting really myopic about it in defense of your choices – which is exactly what I would fear for myself. While I don’t think this sort of cult-like insistence that homeschooling is The Best Ever for Everyone Always! And If Only All Parents Cared Enough To Restructure Their Lives to Achieve Educational Nirvana represents all homeschoolers, I think there is a vocal minority on blogs and stuff who are just reinforcing each other’s cult-like views.

    In the end I think most kids from middle-class and upper-middle-class environments with educated parents who value learning will do fine. Some will be leaders and some will be followers and I think for most of them this has way more to do with a) personality and b) fate than anything else.

    I am not saying this from a position of loving public schools; my son is in grade one and we have had some challenges, and we may take him out of PS at some point. But I also feel that — in the truest “homeschooling” spirit — we have learned a /lot/ about our son and his learning styles and interests from the year. Things we would not have learned had he not been there.

    Also, if you live in an area like you do where there aren’t alternatives maybe homeschooling is the best option. For me, I live in an area where we have specialized public schools as well as a large range of private options. Maybe Godin is coming from that perspective.

    • Melanie Wilson
      Melanie Wilson says:

      As a homeschooler who admits to having had that “my way or the highway” philosophy on homeschooling, I understand where you’re coming from. It’s obnoxious to have people try to make you feel guilty for not making the same educational choices they are.

      You mentioned that you aren’t an expert, would make mistakes, and wouldn’t be able to be objective about your own family if you homeschooled. I can agree with that. What I can’t agree with, though, is the perception that a public school teacher with 25 students in her class is going to be superior to you in those respects. Maybe, but maybe not. We live in a culture that idolizes experts. I don’t, perhaps because I am one and I know how much I don’t know and how flawed I am.

      Interesting discussion. :-)

  5. sophie
    sophie says:

    Penelope, I disagree with your disappointment in Seth not homeschooling his kids. I applaud him for his realism.

    Not every parent is cut out to be a teacher. Not every parent is capable of taking on the huge responsibility of educating their children for life (yes, I know we keep learning always, but the education we receive as children serves as a foundation – it determines how we continue our learning as adults). The decision to homeschool isn’t about finances or knowledge. It’s about management skills, personality, and emotional stability to deal with kids 24/7/365.

    I think you’re being too judgmental on those who choose not to homeschool. The fact is that many homeschooling families do it for a time, and then for any number of reasons, go back to traditional school. This may be you too someday. You may be eating some of your words.

    • Mitchell Maddux
      Mitchell Maddux says:

      You don’t have to be a teacher to homeschool your children. You only have to be a parent.

    • Katelyn Miller
      Katelyn Miller says:

      Mitchell Maddux is right. You don’t have to be a teacher, you just have to be a parent.

      Sophie, your ideas about homeschooling are so old, outdated, and obsolete that I’m embarrassed on your behalf.

      Homeschooling is not about parent=teacher. It’s about child=teacher. It’s about self-directed learning, with support and encouragement and love and belief from the parent. THAT’S what a kid needs to succeed in the rest of their life. They need to develop the ability to evaluate choices, make decisions, and follow a path with confidence, even if it’s hard and scary. Even if nobody is telling them they’re going to get a bad grade or go to detention if they don’t do it.

      The illusion of the importance of grades and the delusion of parents believing that teachers are doing better for their kids than they could do themselves, it’s all part of the grand facade of schooling, which does NOT equal the skills to navigate adult life successfully.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I had the impression that Sophie was only questioning whether parents are always and without exception the better teacher/guides to a child’s learning. This seems to be the assumption, school is always bad, and the parents are always the better choice to teach their children. I think it is fair to doubt the absoluteness of this statement.

        • penelopetrunk
          penelopetrunk says:

          The majority of people who choose to homeschool today are middle-class college educated parents doing it for educational reasons, not religious reasons. And those parents are not attempting to be guides for their childrens’ learning. They are letting their kids be the guides.

          This ideas – child-guided learning– is very very well respected among education reformers, it’s just that we cannot provide that in the public school system. Because in public schools teachers have to focus too much on controling kids and keeping order.

          Child-guided learning requires parents to be there to make sure the kid has what he or she needs. I work full-time supporting the family and I do child-guided learning. I can do this because my kids know what they want to learn and what interests them, and I just make sure they have the tools to do it.

          This is not radical. I didn’t invent the idea. I started doing it only last fall because I was blown away by how solid the research was to show that this is by far the most effective way to educate children.


          • Jacque
            Jacque says:

            Unfortunately, I think where your argument falls apart is that you seem to be making the assumption that a majority of parents can and will be able to do the same thing that you do.

            It’s great that you’re able to work at home and that you know about child-guided learning and have obtained all of this home-schooling knowledge and know how to do this. I wouldn’t guess there is a majority of parents in this country who have the financial ability to do so, nor the knowledge to know how to do child-guided learning even if they did a little research on it on the internet.

            What Seth points to in his book, and what we need in our society is a system that works for the majority. A system that provides outcomes, maybe not in this generation, but the next, that allows children to think creatively and be innovative. This needs to be a system that works for the kids whose parents live in Harlem and whose parents live in Dallas, Atlanta, or Yuma. It is worth talking about that.

            I don’t think you can just say, well if everyone just takes their kids out of school, then the schools will have to change. Change to what? That isn’t activism. Not really. What Seth is proposing is activism, but it must go beyond even what Seth is saying.

          • Shandra
            Shandra says:

            The majority of people who choose to homeschool today are middle-class college educated parents doing it for educational reasons, not religious reasons. And those parents are not attempting to be guides for their childrens’ learning. They are letting their kids be the guides.

            I wonder — and I don’t know — if the research REALLY shows that homeschooled kids from highly motivated middle-class families with educated parents willing to invest lots of time in enriching their kids’ lives do better than public-schooled kids from highly motivated middle-class families with educated parents willing to invest lots of time in enriching their kids’ lives outside of school.

          • Mark C
            Mark C says:

            Its interesting, most of the arguments against homeschooling I’ve read here pretty much affirm Penelope’s assertion that the purpose of modern day public schools is babysitting.

          • Susan Hall
            Susan Hall says:

            ‘Child guided’ or ‘self-directed’ learning works for adults too. I am in a formal community college program to earn an AA degree in paralegal studies. Because the curriculum is fairly predictable and boring including a lot of vocabulary memorization and areas of law I am just plain not interested in I am supplementing my coursework with self directed learning. Today I am going to UC Berkeley to observe the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals oral arguments in front of the three Judge panel. I am reading ‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander about mass incarceration.

            I agree that the public education system is designed to turn out a compliant and complacent workforce. It’s troubling that WalMart is the largest private employer in the U.S.

      • anon for this
        anon for this says:

        I can’t find any evidence to support Penelope’s claim that:
        “The majority of people who choose to homeschool today are middle-class college educated parents doing it for educational reasons, not religious reasons. And those parents are not attempting to be guides for their childrens’ learning. They are letting their kids be the guides. ”

        What I can find (From the 2007 Parent and Involvement in Education National Household Education Surveys) is that an increasing number of parent’s are selecting (as one of up to 7 selections where participants could select more than 1) “an interest in a non-traditional approach” as motivation for homeschooling. Religious reasons was another motivation.

        I am genuinely confused where this data comes from.

  6. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I would love to paint a room white in my house and give my kids dots–it looks so cool!

    On another note, I plan on sending my kids to public school but I am also a very involved, dedicated parent. I try my best to supplement what they learn at school every day in a fun, exciting way.

  7. Wooden U. Lykteneau
    Wooden U. Lykteneau says:

    It could also be that Seth is humble enough to know that education is a specialized skill that is completely and utterly divorced from parenthood. He is, however, NOT advocating the status quo; his book is very big on the charter schools. Perhaps you skimmed more than you read?

    • Mitchell Maddux
      Mitchell Maddux says:

      Sure, running a classroom is a specialized skill, just like running a shift at a restaurant or doing a start-up. But that’s not homeschooling. Teaching in a classroom and homeschooling your children are as different as they could possibly be.

  8. Kim Anami
    Kim Anami says:

    Have you heard of the Studio School concept in the UK?

    It’s for ages 14-19.

    “Teenagers learn best by doing things, they learn best in teams and they learn best by doing things for real — all the opposite of what mainstream schooling actually does.”

    Here they’ve put it into practice. A clip from a TED talk by Geoff Mulgan:

  9. Olivier
    Olivier says:

    I think one should be pragmatic: if there’s a demonstrably good school in your neighbourhood, then use it! Otherwise yes be prepared to consider alternatives. Both 100% homeschooling and root-and-branch reform of the school system are overly ambitious goals.

  10. beyondbeige
    beyondbeige says:

    Well Pen,
    Once again you fan the flames without doing your research. Please reread the book and come back to us. If you want I can give you a True/False test or maybe an essay.

  11. Mitchell Maddux
    Mitchell Maddux says:

    Shandra, let me respectfully suggest that you have no idea what you’re talking about. You haven’t tried it. You’d prefer to defer to professional teachers who’ve already made their mistakes on other kids, but who have zero vested interest in making your son’s education as good as possible. Any professional teacher’s first priority is classroom control and organization so that learning can happen in the way they’ve planned. And what kids learn in that environment is that their interests and their passions come second to their teacher’s plan.

    You aren’t open-minded about trying homeschooling so it’s really ridiculous for you to suggest that Penelope is in cult-defense mode. You’re a great example of the cult of “mass education is better because the professionals do it” and you could get a job at a “Church of Doing Fine is Good Enough For Me” because you’d rather defend your choice than honestly consider, or try, a different way.

    Let’s face it: Seth has not tried homeschooling, and he seems to not have had discussions with anyone that’s doing it today to make sure he wasn’t missing something. Seth blew it and Penelope is right to call him on it.

    • Shandra
      Shandra says:

      Well Mitchell, it seems you are the one making assumptions.

      I have worked in a public school. There are certainly a few teachers who are as you describe. There are a number of exceptional teachers. And there are a lot in the middle.

      I’ve also had my kids in an exceptional Montessori school and I promise you – not only were their teachers highly invested in their education, but I learned an awesome amount from watching them and paying attention.

      There are a LOT of skills to teaching and guiding that only vaguely correlate to parenting. How to break down and teach place value in math, for example.

      There are plenty of examples of failed homeschoolers. They show up in the school system sometimes, inadequately prepared. Some don’t read or write by 12 or 14. Their parents assumed it would happen and it doesn’t.

      Your response just confirms the cult-like aspects of homeschool advocates. Sadly you are not able to admit it, unlike schools and school systems who – while as I said, have issues – continue to work at the problem.

      I don’t think I would turn my child’s education over to a school 100% of the time, bu for 6 hours a day there’s a lot of value there, particularly to a good one.

      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        Teaching skills- People figure things out, including place value. Think about it, apply yourself, be creative. What makes place value “true” and how can it be shown? You can observe a child or teen or community tutor who has not gone to college for education but can show another child how to do things. People sometimes tend to lose site of their own abilities and defer to professionals. You probably could have shown a child place value before doing your teacher education.

        Reading by 12-14- This is “bad” if the child is in school and has to read to acquire information do assignments. Otherwise it is not a harmful state! Many times it does “just happen” and there is no teacher magic. Some children don’t read by then if they’re not “normal.” They need more time or more help. Some won’t read by then and they are “normal” and can easily be taught to read in a short time.

        • Mark C
          Mark C says:

          “There are plenty of examples of failed homeschoolers. They show up in the school system sometimes, inadequately prepared. Some don’t read or write by 12 or 14. Their parents assumed it would happen and it doesn’t.”

          where are all these homeschoolers that don’t read or write by 12 or 14? can you post any links?

          • Zellie
            Zellie says:

            That was Shandra’s comment. I am not a teacher in public schools. As a homeschooling mom I didn’t meet these children, but I am reading about them on Sandra Dodd’s radical unschooling yahoo list. But they are in a safe supportive environment that won’t get in the way when the child is ready to read. Ones embracing this style observe that every child will read if he needs to and they’re not worried if the child doesn’t choose to by a certain age. It’s not the same as neglecting the child! Neglect doesn’t yield great results.

            One can argue against this, but if it hasn’t been tried and studied objectively the argument isn’t worth anything to me. Here’s a short page by John Taylor Gatto on the Sudbury Valley Schools and reading:

            I think it’s probably true because if a child we consider learning disabled is highly motivated to practice and do what he must to improve, he can learn to read. The challenge with tutoring these young kids is it’s difficult for them, they’re not highly motivated, we’re trying to get them to do it in our way and time.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I am curious how a child (assuming there is no learning disability) who cannot read engages in self-directed learning. I realize there are a lot of things which can be learned without reading, after all 200 years ago 95% of the population was in that place. But today a lot of the self-directed learning rests on books, and libraries and internet.

        • Zellie
          Zellie says:

          Play, observation, animal husbandry, gardening, child care, music, art, scouts, workshops, lectures, movies, videos, talking to people, parents reading, books on tape, volunteering of many kinds, museums, zoos, community and homeschool programs, oh there are so many more.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            so, you don’t think reading is an essential life skill nowadays which should be learned as early as possible? It does not get easier as the child gets older.

          • Zellie
            Zellie says:

            It seems the belief of educators is that a child at 12 who cannot read wasn’t taught early enough or well enough and that preschoolers beginning to read are better off than 7 year olds beginning. I think it’s amazing that kids learn to read as well as they do in spite of the reading instruction they receive in school.

            Reading as early as possible is not better than learning when the brain and attitude are ready. I agree that all the developmental input should be going on at early ages, but actual instruction/learning is easy when this happens.

            So the preschoolers and kids coming into school “not ready” to learn to read don’t need hurried reading instruction. They need experiences to develop their brain and thinking that will facilitate reading.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            it was a sincere question. And I realize there are many things one can do without reading. However, I also think that kids might come to a turning point, for example when they are in scouts, when they realize that all the others can read and they might be too ashamed to ask someone to teach it to them. Some kids might decide to get down finally and learn, but some might not and feel isolated among their eers.

    • Angela
      Angela says:

      What a horrible thing to say about teachers. You should be ashamed. If you want to promote the benefits of homeschooling, I suggest you focus on its benefits and not denigrate teachers. Most teachers are devoted, dedicated and hardworking.

      By the way, I ran a successful tutoring business. My ONLY students were homeschooled children that could barely read after spending days watching TV and shopping with Mom. Still, I would never suggest that ALL homeschooled children are poorly educated.

  12. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Well crafted, Penelope, situating your analysis of Seth’s book and situation within his own framework.

    I homeschool five kids, and I do it with help, and I was a state certified teacher. This is in the spirit of fair disclosure before my next comment.

    In response to the other comments so far, I would add this: both/and, not either/or.

    It could very well be true that Seth is painting the big picture that schools need to be revisioned and redesigned, and that homeschooling is simply not the best option for many families. It is true that many families could not homeschool well.

    However, many families could, and would provide the best education for their children. Seth is almost certainly among those people who could. And Penelope’s analysis of why he does not may very well be correct.


  13. Fran Sorin
    Fran Sorin says:


    I haven’t read Seth’s book so I can only respond to what you wrote. I’m one of those people who home schooled her kids 15 years ago…middle and high school…when it wasn’t yet mainstream. It was still the time when homeschooling was thought of as ‘weird’….and not in a good way. We lived in an upper middle class neighborhood, I had a career,and all of the other credentials that would make you wonder ‘What the f…k is this woman doing?’ Was it an easy decision? No. Am I a natural teacher? HA….I used to be known as being pretty impatient. But what I did have to offer was some creative ways that my kids could experience learning and being in the world….and the willingness to put myself on the line and stop complaining about the values and the lack of experiential learning indicative of the schools in our area. And yes, we had plenty of private schools.

    A must read book for anyone even remotely thinking about homeschooling their kids is ‘Dumbing us Down’ by John Taylor Gatto. He gave me the courage to do it. As a matter of fact, after reading him, I thought ‘How can I not?’

    My kids today? Both kind, loving individuals. Passionate about their work…and much more.
    Thanks for an interesting review. Fran

  14. Chris McLaughlin
    Chris McLaughlin says:

    Well, um, how odd it seems to me to argue that there’s one right solution for everyone. In my experience, part of school was shitty, part was good. I’d say the same about the homeschoolers I’ve known: some of it good, some of it not.

    This is not a revolutionary trend that will change the world forever. It’s part of the basket of approaches to educating populations and individuals. Let the basket be full.

  15. Steve
    Steve says:

    What a wake up call. Thanks. I’ve been complaining about the education system for a long time but have been too complacent or too afraid to make the home-school decision. I owe it to my children and their future to do something! Thanks!

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Just something to think about, I feel that kids grow up without drive or aim so often. Could it be because the culture says kids are to play and have no responsibilities (other than take out the trash, clean your room, etc.). Think about how children’s live without fear that if they don’t work they won’t eat. Or that their actions have no real repercusions in the lives of others.

      If this is something new to you then you may think I am cruel for wanting kids to have a real burden. But I think that if we set kids up and really give opportunity for their eyes to be open they can begin living a life that has purpose and aim.

      Many kids grow up not knowing that they can do something for others in need. That their lives can make a real change. That is left for the adults. But as adults as just as scared to confront that reality.

      Why not start kids early? If you homeschool them you can have a direct influence on them on that area. They can take trips to places and come up with ideas on how to help the people there. And solutions beyond “mom, dad, can I have money to help those people?”

      More like, “what can I do to solve this problem? I don’t have money so I have to raise it. I may have to come up with a project to sell/raise money. I need more people because I can’t do it by myself…” and something like that.

      When you are in school you can’t travel much and you could help people but I think school zaps our ability to be creative because their point is to make us familiar with the box and thinking within that box.

      What are your thoughts?

  16. Jen Gargotto
    Jen Gargotto says:

    I love the point you make about the creative drive and the early stages of a career.

    I spend 10 hours a day alone in my office, running my three websites (,, and, guest posting, and turning it all into something that i can live on. Sometimes, it’s purely terrifying to try and keep up. Above all, if I don’t take risks and say things I shouldnt say, say things that are new and interesting, then no one cares.

    There’s some real freedom and some real power that comes from being a nobody, because you’re able to write about things that matter to you and that are different. I don’t have anything to lose. I also won’t have anything to gain unless I keep fighting.

  17. karelys
    karelys says:

    One thing Seth mentions in his manifesto is “go start a school.” As in, if it’s really bad go do something to make it different!

    I thought “how unrealistic.”

    But then I thought some more and it’s not. I may just do that.

    The thing is, we gotta start thinking of education outside the box we are used to.

    If we think education = current school system with buildings and expensive salaries, then we fail.

    But, just an idea, you can gather a bunch of kids with a handful of parents willing to do some sort of homeschool. Rotate parents. Even rotate houses. If the goverment requires you pass certain tests then teach so they pass the tests but also teach to awaken passion. Have school out in the yard. Out by the pool. Go on a museum trip. Go to music or dance classes. Do science experiments. Put projects together to help the community.

    Like a mix of unschooling with a bit more structure.

    The problem with homeschool and how people perceive it is that parents are trying to replicate school at home but taking away the biggest problem for the child; bullying, boring classes, long periods of sitting, loads and loads of tests and homework, etc.

    When I think of schooling my kids I try to think of back in the day when people had to get educated somehow before schools were official.

    And I think of how much I learned by being hands on during childhood.

    If homeschooling is so daunting then getting parents and kids together could make it easier.

  18. katherine burik
    katherine burik says:

    I completely disagree with the premise of the argument. Not all schools suck. In fact, most schools are great. There are lots of reasons not to homeschool and most of them are NOT about being selfish or afraid of being bored. Educating children takes lots of skills and education that teachers have that parents don’t. So a parent SHOULD be afraid. The biggest fear is that the parent will waste the kids time and miss so many opportunities. Visiting the local museum is not a substitute for learning. I am sick of this focus on home schooling. It is not a panecea. It is a cop out. And I still think David Sedaris is funny.

    • Perizade
      Perizade says:

      Yes! BE AFRAID. Be very afraid. There are many ways to screw up. Going in with a sense of confidence is Step 1 in education failure.

  19. Susan
    Susan says:

    I feel like you spend way too much time justifying your decision to homeschool. My guess is to yourself. I think it’s fantastic you educate your kids. But to say it’s for everyone or that all schools suck is just too much of a blanket statement.

    • penelopetrunk
      penelopetrunk says:

      You’re right that I spend a lot of time justifying my choice to homeschool. It’s because it’s not anything I ever expected to do. And it’s not at all in line with my strengths — which are thinking of long-term ideas and getting groups of people to execute them.

      I made this choice because the research about education reform so overwhelmingly supports homeschooling. And, to be clear, this does not mean doing school at home. It means thinking of school as not curriculum based but child-led. And a kid’s curiousity, of courses, does not operate in classic subject areas.

      You can tell me all day about how great your kids school is. But it’s school. And we know that one teacher educating 15 kids (a ratio almost no one even has) is not a way to have kids self-guding their learning.

      So, yeah, I do think all schools suck. Because I have been dispensing career advice for ten years, and I can tell you that the number-one problem people have is that they don’t know how to figure out what they should learn next, as adults. And school does nothing to fix that problem.


      • Grace
        Grace says:

        Actually, the research about education reform overwhelmingly supports providing better care for infants and toddlers (including enriched preschool classes in some cases).

        Poor quality care in the early years of life permanently damages (even shrinking) the brain. Most terrible schools in the US are that way because a large proportion of the students arrive at school already broken. Dysfunctional families, a poor prenatal environment, ignorant or harmful parenting practices, and untreated health problems all contribute.

        I went to public school in Oakland, CA for kindergarten and first grade, and it was shocking to me even then how messed up a large percentage of my classmates were. This whole debate is a distraction from the real problem in American education.

        • Katy
          Katy says:

          I completely agree with this. I’m an early childhood educator, and blog about teaching toddlers and preschoolers in my home (including my own 2 kids). I’m considering homeschooling because my district is considered the worst in my state (NY). But our schools are worst for kids in poverty, and it’s because of the stress and trauma they’ve experienced in the early years, preventing them from making the neural connections they need to come to school ready to learn. It’s very difficult (if not impossible) to make up for those early years, and we haven’t the faintest idea how to even try.

  20. LT
    LT says:

    David Sedaris is still very funny. I never laughed so hard as when we saw him in person reading from some of his unpublished works. His book “When you are Engulfed in Flames” is one of his best. I prefer his current work to earlier work and think he is as good as Mark Twain.

  21. bethanyg
    bethanyg says:

    I have not sat down to read Seth’s latest book, but I did hear him speak on the topic late last year and got a chance to talk to him for a few minutes afterwards about it. In the talk, he asserted that he sent his children to a “regular” school for the school day, and then “home-schooled” them from 3pm to 10pm. His assertion, though, was that this did not fit in the homeschooling model, which may be your disagreement above.

    In this case, Godin’s assertion was that his children learned how to fare in the academic system during the day, which he found extremely valuable for their future success. He could then concentrate on developing areas that they either loved, or needed more work on, after school.

    I personally find this an excellent solution that we have begun even with my preschooler. Rather than calling Godin out for not homeschooling, I celebrate him for realizing the strengths and weaknesses of both systems.

    • Tsh @ Simple Mom
      Tsh @ Simple Mom says:

      Yes! This is officially called “afterschooling” (as if it needed a name). And as a homeschooling family who’s going to try a private school next year, this is exactly what we’ll be doing after school hours.

      I feel like afterschooling combines the best of both worlds (we’ll see, though!). It’s a both/and situation.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        This seems to me that it’s just school overload. It’s school during school and then instead of giving the kid a break to think and discover things on their own, it’s more spoonfeeding, after school.

        The core tenet of self-directed learning is that the adults leave the kid alone so that the kid can figure out what he or she wants to learn.

        Kids need space and alone time and down time in order to figure out what they want to learn next.

        I think afterschooling is for parents who don’t trust their kids’ curiosity to direct them to good stuff. Because the kids have no time to themselves.


    • penelopetrunk
      penelopetrunk says:

      This is an awesome comment, Dave. It is short and simple and does a really good job of explaining where the education reform movement is right now.

      If you don’t know what Khan academy is, and why it has nearly unlimited funding right now because it is so crazy successful then you don’t know about education reform.

      And if you don’t understand the equation of Khan academy plus certification, you don’t know how much progress people have made in terms of thinking beyond school.

      PS Do you know where the best articles about certification come from? The Chronicle of Higher Learning. Which says a lot about the large amount of respect colleges have for the idea that kids can learn on their own without grammar school and high school.


      • sheesh
        sheesh says:

        I feel like you’re three years too late on all this. Who doesn’t know about Khan? I can’t think of a person I know with kids that don’t know about it — sheesh

        • Mark W.
          Mark W. says:

          Yes, I also knew about Khan Academy three years ago. However, Sal is no longer a one man show. He and his team (including Bill Gates, Google, and other influential people) are bringing their software and teaching techniques to the classroom. They are gathering data in the classroom and on the Internet to learn how kids (and adults) learn best in this type of setting. It’s not lecturing or homeschooling. It’s their attempt to improve the educational process.

  22. Laura
    Laura says:

    I haven’t read the book. What about co-ops for schooling? Or maybe that falls under home-schooling already.

    I could see having a group of parents work together to provide ‘home-schooling’. The key would be to find people you think are capable and align with your goals/beliefs. This seems more feasible than the 1 or 2 parents doing everything.

    • penelopetrunk
      penelopetrunk says:

      Homeschooling is not “take the kids you don’t like out of school and make your own school.”

      If that worked then education reformers would say that the private school model of education is working. But it’s not. They teach to tests, they give kids so much homework they need Adderal to get it done, and they also have the same issues as public schools in terms of how difficult it is to evaluate teachers without long-term data on the teachers.

      A co-op is really just a private school, right? Or, if it’s a really bad co-op then it’s a private school that is refusing to hire teachers trained to do school.

      Homeschooling is doing something different than school. It is giving respect to the child to know what they need to learn, when they need to learn. The school model is broken. It has never worked as a way to help people be their best selves. That’s not what school is about. So I’m not sure why people think a co-op model of a bad system is any better.


      • Laura
        Laura says:

        I don’t think I should have used the word ‘co-op’ because it made it sound like a big operation.

        I was thinking on a really small scale. Like, say, your neighbor had kids. And you helped teach her kid and she helped teach your kids.

        The ratio of parents to kids would still be 1:3 while teaching (2:3 in general) which is not like a school.

        It would reduce the amount of time each individual parent spent teaching.

        • Cathy
          Cathy says:

          Laura – You are thinking that parents who homeschool are teaching, but they aren’t necessarily teaching. Ever. A homeschooling parent might find a book for her kid who is interested in the solar system, use Google to find an art class for the kid who spends hours drawing, and discuss stuff with the kid who loves to think about Big Ideas. I’m sure that’s not what most people think of as “teaching.” Many homeschool parents facilitate their child’s learning of topics and skills that the child is inspired to investigate.

          That said, I do think that a small scale “co-op” or friends-helping friends, neighbors-helping-neighbors can be a good thing for homeschooling families. A friend of mine dropped her child off with me three days a week, and it was as if I had 3 daughters instead of 2 those days. It was a lot of fun for my two kids to have their friend over on those days, and my friend was able to hold down a needed part-time job outside of the home. I didn’t teach, though… I let the kids play, I read to them when they were in the mood, I supervised their walks to the park and their play on the playground, etc., I plunked a varied assortment of art materials, games, and other materials on a table just in case anyone wanted to use them (eventually, somebody always did), and of course we all had a lot of fun just talking and relating…

  23. Maria
    Maria says:

    I struggle with your arguments about home-schooling b/c I don’t understand the endgame here. You make all these sacrifices to happiness and career to home-school your sons, so they can turn around and do the same? In the end, when do they get to benefit from the amazing foundation you are giving them if they have to make the same very, very large sacrifices in the future? Your answer can’t be THE answer b/c there is never a pay-off – it’s just a story of endless, repeating sacrifice and no one reaping the reward of all these sacrifices.

    • Mitchell Maddux
      Mitchell Maddux says:

      You will never understand homeschooling, or really the higher purpose of education and self-directed learning in general, if you are thinking that there must be an endgame. And endgame means you want education to have a goal beyond itself. It doesn’t. Teaching your children to learn by themselves in a way that follows their interests and passions first is the endgame.

      • Sisyphus
        Sisyphus says:

        The point that I think Maria’s making is that it’s an exercise in futility to equip your children to fulfill their passions, only to have them turn around and have children in their twenties as Penelope advises.

        When your children have children, then apparently according to the philosophy you and Penelope adhere to their obligation is to stop pursuing their passions. They are supposed to focus on unschooling those children, no matter the sacrifice.

        So what’s the ultimate pay off here? Every generation gets from 18-25 to pursue fulflling independent lives? The balance in that equation is completely off.

        • Cathy
          Cathy says:

          One of the best environments for a child to be in is one in which adults are busy exploring their passions as well as being loving, involved parents. Depending on the passion, a homeschooling parent can involve the child, let the child watch, leave the child with the other parent, a relative, or a friend, or by him/herself when she is old enough, while he or she pursues his/her passion. We adults can do what we love to do part-time if necessary, or in the home instead of out if possible, or in a modified version that allows kids to come along, too. Let’s face it, just being a parent, just being a part of a family, involves some sacrifice, creative thinking, compromise of me-me-me thinking — as far as I’m concerned, homeschooling just lifts the stress of having to deal with other adults’ institutions’ requirements, schedules, limits, and so forth while being a parent. Homeschooling can make parenting EASIER, not harder, LESS sacrificial of our own passions, not more.

          • Sisyphus
            Sisyphus says:

            What you describe sounds like an excellent situation for parents and children, but based on Penelope’s narrative of her homeschooling experience, it has not afforded her greater opportunities to pursue her passions.

  24. Perizade
    Perizade says:

    My aunt was an awesome home schooler and I was so jealous of my cousins growing up. Now I get down on my bony knees and praise the Higher Power my mother didn’t try. I’d be able to recite The Faerie Queen and be unable to fill out a job application at the gas station. Since then I have seen other home schooling families bomb and the damage that’s done is often irreparable. Few people are willing to come out and cop to failing so I have no idea how successful it is across the board. Still, I look at my cousins and I can’t say that it’s an altogether foolish idea.

    • Cathy
      Cathy says:

      Do you know anyone who has come out of public school who seems rather uneducated, or not very successful, or adrift, without seeming to know what to do as an adult? I’m sure the answer is “yes.”

      The fact that a lot of kids learn without schools, teachers, textbooks, grades, and tests proves that people don’t NEED those things to learn, to be successful, to grow up. Of course there will be awesome kids coming out of public schools, private schools, school-at-home families, and unschooling families — and there will also be unfulfilled or “unsuccessful” kids coming out of every sort of education choice. We can’t generalize from a few cases of our own personal knowledge…

  25. Heather L
    Heather L says:

    Parents turn to homeschooling for a wide variety of reason, not just the quality of the local school system. Yes, most schools are good, not all. Yes, most teachers are good, not all.
    Are you suggesting that it’s fine to send your child to a school and teachers you don’t know in the hopes you happen to have a good school, and good teacher.
    Homeschooling is not for everyone but for us it’s wonderful. I hope when parents are considering their educational options that they look into homeschooling as a viable, high quality option.

  26. Lilia Tovbin
    Lilia Tovbin says:

    I haven’t yet read the entire manifesto and would have loved a more neutral review of the document, as I am sure many others would appreciate too. If anyone finds such reviews, please post links! I might just attempt to write a neutral summary myself as I am reading the document…
    Thanks to everyone who posted comments with links to other resources.

    • penelopetrunk
      penelopetrunk says:

      The links in the first paragraph of this post are reviews of the book that are more neutral than mine :)


  27. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    “But I’m disturbed because I adore Seth, and his book, The Dip, really changed how I think about my life.”

    “Smart people only argue against an idea when it’s clear that idea’s time has come.”

    Exactly how I feel when I read your articles about career (inspired) vs. your articles advocating staying in a violent situation and not divorcing (deflated).

  28. Heather H
    Heather H says:

    Those who say most schools are good schools must not live in Alabama. Most schools are not good schools from my perspective and locale.

    And can we define “good” in a school anyway? High test scores? High life satisfaction as an adult? What constitutes a good school, because research shows test scores don’t prove a thing.

    People have this mindset that getting children to learn is so incredibly hard and, omg, you must have professional training to figure out how to make them learn! When you are trying to push your own agenda onto children, or teach them developmentally inappropriate material, then yes, you probably need a lot of training in behavior management and control.

    The secret is, once you get over yourself and get out of the kid’s way, they learn amazingly well without herculean efforts on the adult’s part. It’s almost like their human brain is (gasp!) wired for learning.

  29. davidt
    davidt says:

    Is Seth’s “Stop Stealing Dreams” a justification for not home-schooling his kids or can you just not see past this issue for yourself? I found this post rather disturbing as you say what you think his lengthy manifesto is about, dismiss its primary purpose out of hand, and then say its like when someone who used to amuse you doesn’t any more.

    I understand the visceral reaction. I just don’t understand the lack of constructiveness. So he doesn’t home-school his kids. Can we find ways to make our schools better? Would we really be better off if we did nothing more to try to improve our schools? Befuddled, really, befuddled.

  30. Meghan P
    Meghan P says:

    I just love reading all these comments and seeing how very many perspectives we’re all bringing to this same conversation, and at the same time how ill-equiped we are to actually have the conversation because it is complex and pieces are missing. I homeschool our four and would like to add a few tidbits. Part of the payoff in homeschool is not what it gets our kids or theirs down the line, but what it gets us and them right now, while we’re doing it–the tremendous pleasure of discovering the world together and the closeness that comes in doing it. Yes, there are sacrifices, but for many families, the unexpected gains far outweigh these. It’s good to remember that homeschooling is incredibly diverse in methodology, approach, and philosophy. So it’s hard to talk about, because it is really a legion of very different things. And co-ops are alive and thriving. So many incredible resources are easily available that a lot of our fears about homeschooling are really not necessary. It’s not what it was even five years ago.

  31. Aurooba Ahmed
    Aurooba Ahmed says:

    I enjoy you advocating homeschooling, but I can’t help but wonder, do you homeschool entirely yourself? Customized learning doesn’t necessarily mean a parent doing the teaching, you know.

    I haven’t read Seth’s ebook yet, so I can’t comment. But great post, as usual :)

  32. Kay Lorraine
    Kay Lorraine says:

    Here in Hawaii, the homeschooling movement is almost entirely religious. And I find that worrisome.

    Children who grow up entirely homeschooled lose the opportunity to look at the world in different ways. They get much less practice in socializing with their peers. They lose the chance to interact with kids who have different values. (I know that this is exactly the sort of thing that many homeschool parents are trying to avoid. I also know that this is not the reason that you are homeschooling, Penelope.) Nonetheless….

    School is about more than book learning. Not every parent is mentally equipped to educate a child. I know someone from our congregation who is homeschooling his three boys. Because this guy is bright, and the kids are bright, they are little prodigies. They speak several languages.

    They are also becoming just as weird as their father. They have no ability to play responsibly with other children. No ability to interact with adults without sounding like a-holes. They have no ability to socialize at all. So they avoid the other children and play exclusively with each other. They have no room in their hearts for opinions or philosophies that are not exactly like theirs.

    Are they smart? Yes. Will they score high on achievement tests? Probably so. But will their lives be a rich journey of friendships and diverse points of view? I sincerely doubt it. In the end, I don’t think that their parents are doing them any favors, no matter how many languages they can speak.

    And you are right, Penelope, David Sedaris stopped being funny quite some time ago. But never mind him — now you have inspired me to go out and read “The Dip.”

    • Heather H
      Heather H says:

      I disagree that homeschool children lose the opportunity to view the world in different ways. I know a ton of public school children (and adults too) who have very small world views. That has nothing to do with homeschooling.

      I strongly disagree about the socialization argument. So they don’t socialize exclusively with same-age peers. And? Who cares. Homeschool children learn to socialize with a wide range of people, thus increasing the opportunity to hear different values, not limiting it, as you assume.

      And let’s not forget the socialization issue of bullying in public schools. You want to talk about a place that doesn’t value differences in others? Yeah, public school is it. Everything is lock-step, so it’s a difficult environment to do more than pay lip service when it comes to accepting differences.

      And you can’t say in all honesty that you can see into the hearts of those boys. Highly gifted individuals are different than the norm. Is it possible you have your own issues with accepting differing values in others?

      • Ty
        Ty says:

        Who cares is, your children when they have to socialize with their peers at work. The job market for full-time bloggers is pretty small, and I say that from experience.


    • Heather H
      Heather H says:

      Kay, I feel I should add (for disclosure) that I’m homeschooling what could be called gifted 11-year-old (I hate to use the G word). He’s very precocious, and sometimes comes across as a know-it-all. He doesn’t really like to interact with other kids that much, though he’s getting better. Some adults think he’s being disrespectful when he talks to them as an intellectual equal. They think a child should “know his place,” so to speak and not question them ,nor “show off” that he knows more than they do.

      Since we homeschool, I see more of his social interactions and can help him through the nuances that come up. I can help him understand how to share information without coming across as a pompous know-it-all. His social skills have actually improved greatly since we began homeschooling 18 months ago. So I just wanted to offer that different perspective of how homeschooling can actually improve social skills.

    • Cathy
      Cathy says:

      Kay, you speak of a man who is homeschooling his children, and you claim that the kids are turning out just as weird as he is. What I wonder is, was he, too, homeschooled? Or is it possible to “turn out weird” even though one goes to a “normal” public school?

    • Mark C
      Mark C says:

      is sending kids to a traditional school really the most efficient way for them to learn social skills?

  33. Gib Wallis
    Gib Wallis says:

    I had a friend who was a home school tutor, making sure middle-school to high school aged children could develop skills that parents couldn’t transfer or model themselves and that the kids weren’t interested in.

    You know, stuff like writing essays so they could get into college.

    The kids she worked with tended to all use more recreational drugs than the average high schooler or middle schooler because of the more relaxed schedule.

    I asked her about kids learning social skills and learning to deal with institutional environments. She said that the parents had kids involved in different activities, such as bands and theatre groups, but all the kids she worked with seemed to be behavioral problems wherever they went and didn’t have any social skills or manners because the parents didn’t have any themselves.

    If making people like you is so important to success as an adult, where do home schooled kids get it? Especially if the parents are doing the majority of the education or the kids are doing it all by what they’re interested in as the sole or main criterion?

    I also have friends who tutor more mainstream kids and who work within the education system.

    I would find it daunting to either teach all subjects to kids or if I had kids who needed a guide for subjects that are anathema to me, like math, hard science, engineering, etc.

  34. Parker
    Parker says:

    Hey Penelope,

    Been reading your blog for a while, and I really love it!

    I was wondering, what your thoughts are on the “social” element of schools that are often times neglected with homeschooling?

    A lot of your posts that I enjoyed dealt with social conventions and behavior, so I’d love to know your thoughts on integrating that part of “education” into homeschooling?

    • penelopetrunk
      penelopetrunk says:

      Here’s a post I wrote about the issue of socialization.

      But I have to tell you that it is absolutely a non-issue among parents who homeschool. The only people who bring it up are people who don’t understand homeschooling.

      Things to consider: School is about conformity. It’s the only way that teachers can maintain any sort of order with a 30:1 student teacher ratio.

      Kids in school socialize in between classes, at lunch, and at recess if they are young enough. Kids who are homeschooled socialize all day long if they want to.

      If we could actually teach social skills to kids in school then we would not have a population with Asperger Syndrome. The core idea of this mental disorder is that learning to socialize with other people is something that is basic to the human brain. We don’t need to be taught.
      Kids who do not have this very basic human skill cannot, really, be taught to have it. So, to that end, you either have it or you don’t. School doesn’t teach this to us.


      • Ty
        Ty says:

        But you do have to learn to collaborate with, compete with, and happily coexist with other people your own age, which you can’t do at home.

        I was raised primarily by my single mother from age one, and when I started attending another mom’s at-home preschool I had zero social skills. I could read fluently, and converse with my mom at length, but I had no ability or desire to interact with anyone else (I would simply push other kids out of my way like objects).

        Kindergarten wasn’t much better, and it was a LONG HARD ROAD to get where I am today. If my mother were somehow financially independent and able to raise me to adulthood, I would never have gotten past those issues.

        . . . or met my wife in high school, for that matter.


        • Cathy
          Cathy says:

          Ty, maybe if your mom had thrown you into daycare from Day 1 you would’ve had an even longer, harder road to learning how to be with others. Everyone is a little bit different, genetically/inborn personality-wise, and we all respond a little bit differently to our environments, too.

          I unschooled my three kids, and one was very shy, one was very friendly but intense, and one was a bit shy and more easygoing. They all turned out “fine” — they are all pretty darned friendly in most situations, can talk to people of all ages, are (from all reports) very likable. I honestly think they would’ve turned out just fine if I’d put them into school, too, And you know what, Ty, I have confidence that you would’ve turned out fine, too, even if you’d been homeschooled.

          Remember, homeschooled kids don’t stay home all day. They go out into the world, talk to people, interact; some of them take classes, volunteer, work, start businesses, join teams, travel, and go to camp. Homeschooled kids have a lot more time to do these things than school kids do!

        • Mark C
          Mark C says:

          “But you do have to learn to collaborate with, compete with, and happily coexist with other people your own age, which you can’t do at home.”

          wait… are you saying a traditional school is the only place they can learn to collaborate with, compete with, and happily coexist with other people their own age?

  35. chris
    chris says:

    Important home school principles, which do not exist in the school “system”:

    child-led learning, which is to say, a child’s curiosity is NOT squelched and silenced as it is in a classroom of too-many;

    gaining ground is the idea of apprenticeship-as-learning–an old notion that is coming back, and rightly so;

    pacing that is right for the child;

    child’s learning style can be honored–as opposed to the teacher’s narrower style that is supposed to work for all kids in the classroom; (auditory learner, hands-on learner; visual learner, etc.)

    and finally, Penelope’s point about gaining a sense of what you need to know next–whereas the school system is TOO STRUCTURED to allow kids to follow a thread to its conclusion/the child’s satisfaction–without this, passion for a particular direction cannot develop; when you know/have a burgeoning sense of what is the next question and what is the direction, you have a self-directional skill for your entire life and you WILL become a lifelong learner!

  36. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I just want to know what is the best educational model for children who come from single parent homes where the parent may not have much education his or herself and so wouldn’t be a very effective teacher? Also these single parents have to work and can’t be there to homeschool. Homeschooling may work for children of educated parents with the resources to stay home and teach them, but what’s the best way of educating children from low income, single parent households without many resources?

      • Ty
        Ty says:

        I hate to harp on this topic, but that isn’t true at all. That article brilliantly explains the educational crisis facing poor, minority, and poor minority children in America.

        It doesn’t say one word about HOW a poor single parent is supposed to pull off this wonderful solution to all their problems. They can’t homeschool when they have to work full-time and they’re the only adult in the home.


        • SJ
          SJ says:

          Agreed. It assumes some outside source of income to pay for tutors etc. I read the article a while ago and was rather frustrated for a long time afterwards at the huge missing piece the author had (wilfully?) sidestepped.

  37. katsprat
    katsprat says:

    Brilliant. One of the examples that springs to mind is Julian Assange, who was essentially a self-taught computer whiz before going to college.

  38. Melanie Wilson
    Melanie Wilson says:

    I have to leave one more comment. I have a Ph.D. in psychology and I’ve homeschooled since my now 15yo was 3. To say my oldest has excelled is an understatement. I say this only so I won’t be blasted as another dumb homeschooler.

    I’ve noticed how many people are commenting on the skills and expertise of teachers that regular parents simply don’t have. One person mentioned that we can’t expect to know how to teach our kids math if we’re not trained teachers. Seriously? This is the epitome of the problem. As traditionally schooled adults, we have come to believe that we can’t do anything that we don’t have the “education” to do.

    How can we possibly believe that when most of us are doing jobs we weren’t formally educated to do? Is this what we want for our kids? To be too afraid to do anything that we haven’t been spoon fed in school?

    One of the most common questions I get is, “How do you know what to teach?” Most homeschoolers buy books! There are myriad textbooks and curriculum choices that guide us in how to teach every subject. And guess what? That’s the same way that most teachers in any school know what to teach. Teaching kids isn’t so complex. It’s not brain surgery for heaven’s sake. Some of the curriculum I’ve used gives you a word-for-word script of what to say! And when you really are clueless about the subject matter, you have two choices. You can learn it and teach it or you can let someone else teach that subject as a tutor, through an outside class, through videos, or online. Most homeschoolers educate themselves on how to teach kids with special needs, too. Homeschooling becomes your profession and do things like attend conferences to hear expert presenters and check out curriculum options.

    I would want to homeschool, if for no other reason than my kids won’t grow up to be adults who think they can’t do something that they haven’t been formally educated to do.

    • Shandra
      Shandra says:

      I think you’re missing my point.

      I said I didn’t want to practice on my kids. I’m sure I could learn to teach math to kids. I just don’t want them to have a first year teacher for that level each time, which is what they would get with me. I think the idea that our kids learn by watching us struggle is a bit overrated.

      I feel kind of bad for homeschoolers who haven’t seen, obviously, really amazing teachers at work. I have, and I am excessively glad to have them in my kids’ lives. I don’t worry that their capacity to learn will be squelched at school (I keep an eye on it).

      It sort of amazes me that the assumption is kids are so naturally wired to learn that they can have any old parent at home, but one bad teacher in a school is going to ruin their learning abilities. That a family that values learning all the rest of the year – evenings, weekends, holidays, summers – is totally undone by *gasp* public school.

      I’m also really glad to be able to have a career in my own area of expertise.

      I was thinking that the elephant in the room is that most homeschooling families have a MOTHER stepping out of her career to do it. Instead of tracking women into jobs as nurses and teachers we’re now tracking women into their jobs as homeschoolers. The bar for good parenting is raised again so that women who work outside the home are just raising uncreative unprepared children who are dying in the public school system.

      I don’t buy it. Any of it really. There are areas where the public schools are terrible, and that is a terrible thing. Schools do need to continue to change — they have — and we need to work against policies that are not helping with that.

      But I really don’t think homeschooling is the answer for most people _nor should it be_.

  39. Robert
    Robert says:

    Amazing. You start with an argument you disagree with and perform an act of character assassination.

    Just remember that Seth and virtually every other person you think is brilliant and admire and wish to emulate is NOT A PRODUCT OF HOMESCHOOLING. They came out of the system you have turned away from — the system that was designed to train factory workers.

    • Paolo Escobar
      Paolo Escobar says:


      When a movement didn’t exist 30 years ago, but a system supported under threat of arrest did, surely it is no surprise that most people went through the system.

  40. Becky
    Becky says:

    Your enthusiasm is to be commended, yet you should keep an open mind about schools and the spirit of education as a whole. Not all parents make effective teachers; and in many cases, some students do not make good candidates for home schooling. Some students need socialization not isolation.

    In a typical high school setting, a student could have six different teachers who are at the top of their game with knowledge, enthusiasm, and methodology. There are a thousand public high schools, all top-notch schools; highly praised in national publications available. Some, fall slightly below the radar of national status, but produce remarkable results. Generally speaking, a typical home school parent does not have the knowledge on such a broad base to compete with this.

    Not all home school parents are created equal. Some parents do home school for religious reasons. Others, home school to justify their reasons for staying home. It is becoming publicized recently, that many parents are receiving large stipends from local and state school boards to homeschool. All or any of these reasons should not be the incentive to home school. If bad schools exists (in your words), then it is fair to say bad homeschooling exists too. Yet, no one is evaluating the home schooling parent.

    While your enthusiasm keeps readers, it does not suggest that it makes you an effective educator. Not all schools are bad. Statements such as this would indicate your judgement is clouded and it might behoove you to keep an open mind.

    In my humble opinion.

  41. Mariana Mai
    Mariana Mai says:

    Penelope you never talk about different models of schools, like democratic schools, which are child-led; why? It seems to me they have some “economies of scale”, a social environment and still respects the child’s inclinations.

    • penelopetrunk
      penelopetrunk says:

      There are a lot of parts to your question. The first is “social environment” as if being out in the world with your family is not social.

      There is a TON written about how the idea of going to school for “socialization” is ridiculous. It’s old news at this point. Here’s a post about that:

      Another part to your question is, I think, about Montesssori, which gives children lots of choices. The problem is that kids in homeschool have infinite choices, because they are not limited to what the teacher is offering. If you are in a classroom, you can only learn what is in the classroom.

      Most of the benefits to homeschooling require being outside of a classroom. For example, a huge benefit to homeschooling is that kids do not have to get to school at 8am, which is unnatural for the sleep schedules of almost any kid at any age.

      Here’s a good article about the benefits of homeschooling that are family-focused (and therefore require being outside the classroom.)

      Finally, I don’t think the child-centered models for school extend to high school, and high school is one of the worst formats of all for educating kids. Here’s a link about that:

      I have learned all this stuff in just six months of research. Really, I never read anything about homeschooling before that. It does not take long to understand that most arguments supporting any kind of school have been beaten to death by research, it’s just that it’s really inconvenient for parents to hear, so the media does not report it.


      • Cathy
        Cathy says:

        Penelope, I assumed that the phrase “democratic school” referred to Sudbury style school, not Montessori. Big difference.

      • Mariana Mai
        Mariana Mai says:

        Thank you for answering my comment! It is always a huge honour.
        But as Cathy has kindly pointed out, I was talking about Subdury-style schools, not Montessori. When I read about them I found them dreamy, but my question now is: are they too good to be true? I am eager to know your opinion.
        About the topics I’ve raised:
        1) Social environment: regular schools don’t promote social skills and homeschooling is not by itself handicapping your kids in that area. I agree. But democratic schools seems to provide something better.
        2) Homeschooling provides infinite choices. I agree. No scheduling restraints.
        3) Child-centered model schools don’t extend to high school: I don’t know, I have to take your word on that. But maybe it is not necessary that they do. By then teenagers should be exploring, finding their place in this world.
        And I do see a lot of inefficiency in homeschooling.
        Please, please Penelope, I know you are irritated with all the ‘school activists’, but would please discuss democratic and other child-led schools? I am not satisfied with your answers! I know you can do way better! Actually I was kind of hoping you would bad-mouth them in that clever way of yours, cause now I am jealous towards the parents who can send their kids to those schools…

        • Susan Hall
          Susan Hall says:

          My son attended a Sudbury School for a year. The principal of a democratic school is sound but it is harder to put into practice. At this particular Sudbury school like in larger society it still came down to ‘He who has the money makes the rules.’ The wealthy benefactors of the school were hellbent on over-riding the school meeting when the students voted for policies that the benefactors disagreed with.

          I would recommend that people thinking about homeschooling using the Sudbury model visit the founding school in Sudbury, Massachusetts. I was impressed.

          • Mariana Mai
            Mariana Mai says:

            Very interesting information Susan, thank you. See Penelope, there is probably great material on the subject!

  42. Meghan P
    Meghan P says:

    I’ve seen several references to homeschoolers being isolated, or lacking opportunities for socialization, or being poorly socialized. Believe it or not, opportunity for socialization is one of the reasons today’s homeschooling families chose to do so. Many traditional schools allow extremely limited time for children to converse freely and build friendships. Even lunchtimes are brief and sometimes have assigned seating. And most classrooms contain a batch of children collected by age, rather than by interests. That’s not how most adults chose friends and build relationships! Homeschooled kids, in contrast, spend abundant time with friends of diverse ages, usually chosen for a mutual interest, and have much more time than their classroom peers for free play and for a banquet of activities, clubs, classes, and sports. Many homeschoolers are seldom home, in fact, and are often in the company of friends (who can sleep over on weeknights too). Our lunches are shared with other families and are two-hour feasts of food and intriguing conversations and fascinating debates. If a child is isolated, that’s a parenting issue, not a homeschooling issue.

  43. Sara
    Sara says:

    I was a public school teacher and decided, after 2 years, that I was wasting my time. Public school is a joke. I’m reasearching homeschooling for my kiddos, and I have found your research and opinions fascinating. I think you’re brilliant, and I love how painfully blunt you are!

  44. Chris
    Chris says:

    Penelope, your assessment of Seth is right. I want to add to it that I believe he has been visited by some men in black suits and they’ve made him an offer he can’t refuse. He was fine pushing revolution when he was still grassroots and pretty much underground.

    This manifesto is just a fancy intellectual foreplay for Seth’s next big thing…. some kind of charter school named using a word play of “dreams.” He may SAY he doesn’t favor top-down industrialization of education, but he certainly sees the profit potential of it. *sigh* Sell-out.

  45. Albert Francis
    Albert Francis says:

    This is getting a bit desperate…

    I have a feeling that everyone commenting on this post are all very privileged and that their kids will do well no matter what they choose. Why? Cause the two by far most important factors in determining future are:
    1. Your parents
    2. Your IQ

    Anything else is just playing with the fringes. Seriously, you all need to relax more and just take it easy.

    As for homeschooling, why is it a choice between one OR the other? What about going to school and THEN do a few more classes with mom/dad at home? Or that’s not considered homeschooling? I call it best of both worlds…

    • Jen
      Jen says:

      I call it exhausting. It goes against the sleep schedule that Penelope already alluded to, and will just make your kids frustrated. You’ve got to pick your battles, man.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Sending kids to school and then homeschooling them outside of school can not work because there is too much damn homework now. Unless your child is a genius and gets it all done in 5 minutes (in which case getting nothing out of it), there simply is not time. In fact I pulled my youngest out of school recently to homeschool, and the oppressive amount of homework was one of the reasons. I felt like I was working for the school, on things (worksheets) I did not want my kid doing in the first place. I had my own agenda for our time outside of school, but the time got eaten up by the school.

  46. Jo
    Jo says:

    This post is certainly pushing some buttons. I homeschooled four children over twelve years; they are now all at school or university. I have two at a public school and one at a private school, and this is what I have learned. Home schooling can be fun, rewarding and enriching, except when it’s not. It can suit some kids and not others. It is very easy to make homeschooling all about a parent’s values and not about a child’s needs. Schools can be excellent, but sometimes are not. I believe children often thrive in a group situation with a good teacher. There are a number of darling but neglected children in my girls’ public school for whom the care of kind teachers probably constitutes most of the positive interactions they would get in a day, and for whom an excellent public school education is absolutely essential.
    The most important thing I learned as a a homeschooler was that education must serve the child, and that anyone with passion and empathy can facilitate their child’s learning. This makes me fearless in demanding the best from the school for my children, and has also made my children absolutely confident to negotiate their own preferred path through school.
    Penelope, I love the way you provoke discussion with your outlandish claims, but seriously, is there no middle path with you? You are claiming there is only one right way to educate children. Has being a mother to two children not taught you that there is never one right way to do anything when it comes to relating to individual human beings? I think that perhaps one of the most important lessons I ever passed onto my children is ‘Never quite trust the person who claims to have all the answers’. And maybe the other most important, ‘Having the answer is never as important as juggling with the myriad possibilities of the question.’

    • Jen
      Jen says:

      Exactly. Sometimes, all the research points in one direction, but that’s just not the right choice for you.

    • Natalie
      Natalie says:

      Thanks, Jo. This is really what struck me as I read P’s review and many of the follow-up comments. This topic is meaningful to me, but I can’t say I’m getting much from the binary framework of the discussion. A good plug for Seth’s book though. I’m interested in reading it.

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